The outcome of the assembly polls in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat is on expected lines, and demonstrates beyond any doubt that it is on account of two very strong regional leaders. It can be safely assumed that while Narendra Modi’s leadership helped the BJP score an impressive win in Gujarat, Virbhadra Singh was the one who led the Congress to victory in Himachal.
Significantly, the tirade of corruption launched by the BJP against Virbhadra in Himachal backfired essentially because the people were not convinced that the five-time chief minister was guilty. In fact, they saw bigger corruption in the government of outgoing chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, and allegations of financial irregularities against BJP chief Nitin Gadkari made things very difficult for the saffron brigade.
In addition, Virbhadra — who was also being targeted by an ineffective section in his own party — spearheaded the Congress campaign and addressed meetings in as many as 60 out of 68 assembly segments. His detractors were thoroughly exposed when party nominees themselves requested him to address rallies in their areas. No other state leader was as much in demand, and some of them could not even get out of their constituencies — given the tight position they found themselves in.
During his campaign, Virbhadra did not shift focus from the Dhumal government’s alleged wrongdoings, and used his vast experience — extending over 50 years in public life — to touch a chord in every part of the state. While doing so, he energised party workers and simultaneously put the BJP on the defensive. He exploited the rift within the BJP, between Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, to his advantage and was able to convince the electorate that the present government was robbing the state of its resources and amassing wealth outside. As far as the common people were concerned, they responded positively primarily because they felt that this could be the last time he was leading the campaign.
It is virtually certain that Virbhadra will be made chief minister for the sixth time, even though he has left it on Sonia Gandhi. The party probably realises the importance of a strong regional leader, and this understanding may also extend to other states too.
The Himachal victory is Virbhadra’s Christmas and New Year gift to his party.